Some faiths, but not Judaism, believe that the way to be holy is to lock yourself away from the world and avoid temptation.
The Jewish approach as set out in today’s sidra is holiness as a part of, not apart from, normal everyday life.
Holiness is decency, love, respect and responsibility at home, honesty, fairness and truthfulness at work, and helpfulness, dignity and charity wherever you go.
The arena of holiness is not behind closed gates and high walls, but “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up”.
Holiness is not secluding yourself from temptation but meeting it head on, overcoming it and acting with moral courage.
Where in the prayers do we acclaim God’s holiness? In the k’dushah that comes within a description of God’s work in history.
Where do we emulate God’s holiness, as commanded in the sidra (Lev. 19:2)? In the midst of history, in what we choose to do and how we do it… even in apparently banal things like how we eat and drink and where we sit and stand.
BEARING A GRUDGE.
The Torah insists that one should not take vengeance or bear a grudge (Lev. 19:18).
Rabbi David Hoffmann, a great German Jewish leader, says that in this verse the Torah is speaking about two types of vengeance, immediate and long-term.
Immediate vengeance is “n’kimah”; “n’tirah” is nursing a grudge in one’s heart and being bitter against the other person for years on end.
In both cases the Torah is not saying that we should blithely forgive and forget, but we must understand that people (including ourselves) sometimes allow their circumstances to erupt in harmful words and deeds.
If we are the ones who got hurt we have to be able to see that it wasn’t necessarily malice but internal pressures that led to what was said or done.
LOVING THE UNLOVABLE.
In this sidra, the Torah enunciates the Golden Rule that commands me to love my neighbour (Lev. 19:18), but what can I do if a particular person is unlovable?
Hillel regarded this verse as the highest duty a human being can have. Though most people interpret it as saying, “Love your neighbour because he is like you”, there is a different interpretation, “Love your neighbour in spite of the fact that he is not like you”.
Being different makes life varied and interesting, but to hate a person because they are different removes the moral basis of society.
LOVING & HATING.
Two verses in this week’s portion seem to be saying the same thing, one positively, one negatively.
The positive verse says, “V’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha” – “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The negative verse is, “Lo tis’na et achicha bil’vavecha” – “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev. 19:17).
Logically the two duties seem to imply one another. If I love my neighbour, I don’t hate him; if I don’t hate my brother, I love him.
How then can both verses be necessary?
A Chassidic writer says that the Torah is trying to teach us that our love for others must be unconditional. We are not allowed to love people on condition that they are good and law-abiding. Even if they are, God forbid, lacking in righteousness we still have to love them.
We cannot merely say, “I don’t hate my brother, but you can’t expect me to love him. Look at the sort of person he is after all!”
The crucial word is “kamocha”, “as yourself”. Just as you presume that other people, and God too, will love us warts and all, so we have to love others regardless of their faults and failings.